Poland Pays Tribute To Queen Elizabeth II

by Robert Strybel
Warsaw Correspondent

WARSAW – As soon as the death of Queen Elizabeth II was announced,  Poles began gathering outside the British Embassy in Warsaw where they lay flowers and lighted votive lamps. In the book of condolence, Polish President Andrzej Duda wrote that she had been “the embodiment of all that had made Great Britain truly Great.” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki referred to Britain’s longest-reigning monarch as “an icon, a symbol of the power, culture and tradition of the United Kingdom.”

Queen Elizabeth II, who died at the age of 96, had been the titular ruler of the United Kingdom since her coronation in 1952. Her eldest son, Prince Charles, automatically succeeded her as King Charles III (Polish: Król Karol Trzeci). One of the late monarch’s last decisions was to bestow the title of Queen Consort upon his second wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, a divorcee.

Poland’s media commemorated the passing of Queen Elizabeth with copious press commentaries and documentary footage on TV. Especially recalled was the Queen’s three-day 1996 visit to Poland, accompanied by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Britain’s First Couple met with Poland’s then ex-communist leaders, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Prime Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, and laid wreaths at Warsaw’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Holocaust Memorial. At the Royal Castle, they attended an exhibition titled the Eagle and Lion, devoted to the history of Polish-British relations over the centuries.

Those bilateral ties were also highlighted in the Queen’s address to Poland’s 560-seat National Assembly, a joint session of the Sejm and Senate. There, the Queen indicated that those contacts went back to the very dawn of Polish statehood. “One of my distant ancestors, King Canute, was the nephew of your King Boleslaus the Brave (Bolesław Chrobry),” she said without elaborating. The mother of Canute (995-1035) was Polish Princess Świętosława, the daughter of Poland’s first historical ruler, Mieszko I. At the height of his power, Canute ruled England, Denmark and Norway, then known collectively as the North Sea Empire.

Closer to our times, the Queen hailed Poland’s 1791 Third of May Constitution, and on the Second World War said: “Who knows if the flame of freedom would not have been extinguished without Poland standing at our side.” But she also acknowledged that 1945 did not bring freedom to everyone. “That is why we were especially happy when Poland regained its full sovereignty and decided to join the European Union and NATO,” she explained.

The British Monarch evoked a thunderous ovation when she concluded with: “Poland needs Europe, but Europe also needs Poland” and added in Polish: “Żeby Polska była Polską!” (Let Poland be Poland).